DHL is transforming logistics – one innovation at a time

10 February 2017

DHL is transforming logistics – one innovation at a time

DHL is transforming logistics

Where does your mind go when you think about innovation? To a tech hub like Silicon Valley, or to an entrepreneurial spirit like Elon Musk? At DHL, innovation makes us think of something a bit more unassuming: a sleepy town in Germany called Troisdorf.

Troisdorf is the home of one of DHL’s two Innovation Centers (the other is in Singapore). The Innovation Centers are hubs where the latest technology, trend research, and customer innovations come together to bring about change in the logistics industry.

“There are so many exciting possibilities out there,” said Ken Allen, CEO of DHL Express. “The great ideas and new technologies transforming logistics never cease to amaze me. We’re always on the lookout for innovative breakthroughs – big and small – that can improve the way we deliver packages, interact with our customers, and take care of our environment.”

MOVING FAST, FLYING HIGH

One recent breakthrough involved DHL supporting the Delft Hyperloop team – a group of engineering students from the Netherlands – as they took first place at the SpaceX Hyperloop competition in California.

What made the win so special for DHL? In the 18 months leading up to the competition, DHL worked with Delft Hyperloop to analyze the potential impact on the logistics industry. The environmentally-friendly transport pods that travel at the speed of airplanes in low-pressure tubes are a potential game-changer, with things like European same-day delivery a real possibility in the future.



Another cutting-edge technology on display at the Innovation Center is the Parcelcopter. In 2013, DHL Parcel launched a research project on the use of a special drone, dubbed the Parcelcopter, for transporting goods under real conditions to remote or geographically challenging areas and improving the lives of the inhabitants there. During a trial period in 2014, the Parcelcopter delivered time-sensitive goods and urgent medicines to the North Sea island of Juist. In 2016, the current Parcelcopter 3.0 based on tiltwing technology was used for a three months trial undertaken in the community of Reit im Winkl in the Bavarian Alps, where the copter was loaded and unloaded automatically by a specially developed Packstation, the Parcelcopter Skyport.



GOING ELECTRIC

As inspiring as it is to dream about the amazing potential of technology like Hyperloop and the Parcelcopter, DHL’s drive for innovation isn’t limited to futuristic designs. We look for ways to improve on existing technology as well – such as the humble delivery vehicle. In 2014, we introduced the StreetScooter – developed and manufactured by a subsidiary of Deutsche Post DHL Group. It’s an electric vehicle custom-made for delivery tours, and it’s already making a big difference: each vehicle saves three tons of CO2 emissions, and there are already a thousand of them out on the roads delivering packages.

Green living is important to DHL, and rather than wait for another company to manufacture the green delivery vehicle of our dreams, we worked with partners to make the StreetScooter ourselves. Just like Elon Musk hopes to revolutionize passenger cars with Tesla Motors, we hope to revolutionize delivery vehicles with the StreetScooter.

SMALL STEPS, BIG IMPACT

StreetScooters, characterized by the gentle whir of the electronic motor as they maneuver through cities making deliveries, are immediately recognizable. Some DHL innovations, however, are far more subtle. For example, an employee at a warehouse wearing a pair of glasses is nothing remarkable – unless those glasses are displaying augmented reality information right in front of the employee’s eyes.

AR technology is in use at some DHL warehouse facilities, giving employees a way to increase productivity and accuracy simply by wearing a pair of glasses. The glasses aid in the ‘picking’ process – finding and retrieving single items in large warehouses – by scanning product barcodes and providing instant feedback to the wearer. It also eliminates the need for a hand-held scanner, freeing both of the picker’s hands. Innovation and inspiration can strike anywhere at any time. Sometimes we make great leaps forward, other times we take small steps, but by staying on the forefront of innovation, DHL is ready to embrace new ideas and technologies to unlock their potential for the logistics industry.